Fox (n): carnivore of genus vulpes; crafty person; scavenger; (vb) to confuse; -ed (adj): to be drunk.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

An indecent proposal.

I ASKED a colleague to marry me today. He said: "Yeah, all right."

So that joke backfired. I am now contractually obliged to buy him a ring and a holiday. I don't even know when his birthday is, his favourite colour, or anything. I've been thinking of ways to call it off, ranging from the "I just don't want to rush you" talk to flicking elastic bands at him until he breaks off the engagement in a huff.

February 29, for reasons that are completely lost to me, is the day when women are traditionally 'allowed' to ask men to marry them. Call me bolshy if you like but if I wanted to marry someone I'd just say so, not wait for the one day in 1,460 when 'tradition' says I can do what I want for once. And how must it feel to be the man who gets asked by a woman who was so unconcerned about it she could wait up to four years to pop the question? If a chap did that he'd be labelled a commitment-phobe or at the very least too laid-back to be of any use.

Marriage is something strung about and laden down with 'traditions' - wearing white, not seeing the groom before you walk up the aisle, speeches, first dances, certain things that are done a certain way because that's the way they're always done. But if we always did things the way they've always been done we'd still be curing headaches by drilling holes in our skulls.

When I got married there were some of the traditions I wanted to keep and some I didn't. Not being religious we had a civil ceremony, some nice poems, and a big party with all our friends. There had been no surprise proposal because it was something we'd discussed in advance, and I insisted on choosing the engagement ring because he didn't know what an amethyst was.

Then he said "I'll ask you properly when the moment's right" and for a couple of months I got increasingly irritated when every time there was a nice moment and he'd left the ring at home (it's almost as though he was trying to tell me something, isn't it?) Eventually I packed a picnic, told him we were going to Richmond Park for the afternoon, and made sure he had the ring. After a bit he fished it out of his pocket and even though I'd nagged him for weeks it was still, strangely, a bit of a surprise how much it all meant and I burst into tears and he said he was worried I might say no.

And this all happened to a girl who was never the least bit bothered about getting married, in fact didn't really care at all. But the rules of such things suck you in and before you know it you've got an A4 wedding folder, a colour co-ordinated timetable and need the UN's help with the seating plan.

We were (largely) happy; the wedding was lovely. The marriage went phut after a very short space of time and it's no coincidence that I've no intention of ever repeating the experience without the benefit of a frontal lobotomy and Kofi Annan's solemn promise to be on call 24/7.

The main problem I have with the institution is not falling in love, or deciding to chain myself to someone for life - although that's a considerable hurdle for the once-bitten - but the fact it's an institution at all. Marriage is a declaration of commitment, and it's a joyous thing. If you don't do it in a white frock, you're still committed. If you don't do it in a church, or in front of 200 guests, or with a cake and a DJ, it's still a commitment. All that extra stuff is just padding. And the problem with padding, as I think my ex-husband probably found, is that sometimes it forces you into something you're unsure about and sometimes, as with me, it keeps you down when you really want to get out.

But then marital traditions are based on the tenets of our religious books which themselves are basically a set of rules on how to behave written by people thousands of years ago. Mary was 13 when she conceived Jesus, if you believe the books; Muhammad had 11 wives, one of whom was nine at consummation; and quite a large chunk of the Old Testament is about handing daughters and wives around like poker tokens. Catholic priests used to marry and have children. Romans married girls off at 12. The Bible says you 'marry' everyone you have sex with. Just because things used to happen doesn't mean they still should.

As society matures so it decides that women aren't chattels, that one wife is generally enough and children are off-limits. It's okay with co-habitation, jumbled-up families and people of varying sexualities and genders doing their own thing. And as I've matured I have learned that weddings are expensive puff, marriage is a lifelong project, and you're best off picking someone to do it with who thinks the same as you about the important bits and will hold your hand when times are rough, not piss off down the pub.

If two people can do that, and want to get married in whatever way they fancy - be it up a mountain or down a mine or on unicycles - I think it's an impressive enough thing that they should be allowed to give it a go. I don't care if they're a man and a woman, or both the same gender, or if she asked him on February 29. So long as they don't break the law or hurt others I'll clap them on their way and keep the mutters of "one in two, you know, it's one in two" under my breath, because there are more than enough people hating each other in the world and if two people want to do the opposite it's anything but indecent.

Let's use the extra day we get every four years to celebrate the fact that YOU CAN ASK HIM ANY TIME YOU LIKE.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to break it to my fiance that it's against the law to marry a fox and we'll have to wait until society sees things our way.

Some people spend too much time thinking about gay sex.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Capitalists 1, Hippies 0.

OCTOBER 15, 2011 was a remarkable day in the long and noble history of peaceful protest.

Angered by a global economic crisis triggered by risky banking and frivolous governments, a group of entirely well-intentioned campaigners decided to occupy the London Stock Exchange to force a change and highlight how the rich are causing the poor to suffer.

All good stuff, except the stock exchange was closed. And it's private property, so anyone sitting down in it who's not supposed to be there gets turfed out pretty quick.

So instead the protesters went and sat down outside St Paul's Cathedral, where it would be more difficult to remove them, there was a handy Starbucks for charging up their Macbooks and from whence they were yesterday finally removed by bailiffs after a series of civil court hearings.

Now, lots of stuff which the protest movement, during the past few decades, has promoted is stuff that many of us agree with - war is bad, nuclear weapons aren't nice, sexual equality is a good thing, freedom of choice, the right to vote and so on. The 99% of people who don't have all the money think the financial system needs to be sorted out. Yet for some reason people that campaign consistently for those things always seem to get it wrong. Why is this?

Well, the one thing hippies have never managed is decent PR. They tend to think their message will speak for itself, without realising they need an interpreter.

I said at the time, and I'll keep on saying it until people pay attention, but if you're going to campaign you need to have targets you can hit. Newspapers usually launch campaigns only when they have a reasonable chance of success, because then you can have a big WE WIN headline on the front page rather than a 'sorry, we lost' news-in-brief on page 35. A failed campaign is not news.

So if you're going to protest against the global economic system, you need to piss off the people in charge of it. The fact fairly lowly bankers have to walk past your tent on the way to their shiny office might irk them but irking never won any wars. You need to annoy the boss of Goldman Sachs and some world leaders, or else not bother at all.

You also need to get the public on-side. They already hate bankers, so that should be easy, but the Occupy lot nallsed that up too by deciding to stage a sit-in at a church. The public generally like churches. They certainly like pretty ones designed by Sir Christopher Wren, and they have a very soft spot for iconic ones which survived the Blitz and Lady Di got married in. It's basically the nation's church, and if you park your dirty tents outside it they won't like it.

And you need a clear message everyone can understand. Instead the hippies gave us a wonderfully aimless manifesto which I saw them debating and voting on during one of my visits to the Occupy camp, which at points had more journalists in it than demonstrators:

1. The current system is unsustainable. It is undemocratic and unjust. We need alternatives; this is where we work towards them.
Who wrote this, Neil off The Young Ones? Do you mean 'The System' or 'The Man'? You ought to be demanding changes to global financial regulations and international debt trading, shurely?
2. We are of all ethnicities, backgrounds, genders, generations, sexualities dis/abilities and faiths. We stand together with occupations all over the world.
If I ever see a slash added into the word 'disabilities' ever again as long as I live I'll come and occupy you, sunshine.
3. We refuse to pay for the banks’ crisis.
Well, that's dandy if you're a tax exile, unemployed or otherwise not adding to the pot. The rest of us have already paid for it, we're still paying for it, and we're paying for Greece and Iceland and everywhere else too. You may as well refuse to breathe anything but FairTrade oxygen.
4. We do not accept the cuts as either necessary or inevitable. We demand an end to global tax injustice and our democracy representing corporations instead of the people.
Well you've got three things in a mess here. There's arguments to be had around the cuts but how are you going to end tax injustice in Ghana or corporate power-grabbing by having a sit down in London?
5. We want regulators to be genuinely independent of the industries they regulate.
What does this have to do with tents?
6. We support the strike on the 30th November and the student action on the 9th November, and actions to defend our health services, welfare, education and employment, and to stop wars and arms dealing.
Marvellous. Well done. Lots of people do. Did you really want to waste a manifesto point on 'solidarity, brothers'?
7. We want structural change towards authentic global equality. The world’s resources must go towards caring for people and the planet, not the military, corporate profits or the rich.
Riiiiiiiight. You've watched a lot of Star Trek, haven't you?
8. We stand in solidarity with the global oppressed and we call for an end to the actions of our government and others in causing this oppression.
I'm being oppressed just reading this tut. Are you likening organised rape in the Congo or famine in Niger to the problem of first-time buyers who can't get a mortgage?
9. This is what democracy looks like. Come and join us!
You smell. No.
So after four months in the cold and wet the Occupy St Paul's protesters achieved not a single one of their aims. They didn't even raise awareness of the movement, really, because we already had strikes and marches and riots and all they educated us about was civil trespass laws and that even churchmen get arsey if you crap in the apse.

And therein lay the protest's major flaw - that despite initially being supported by plenty of decent, ordinary, working people it had a message so woolly and aimless that it attracted every crusty vagrant in a 10-mile radius. People who are on the streets with mental health or drug problems pitched up, bringing with them dealers, graffiti, hygiene issues and troublemakers, thereby neatly killing off any remaining public support.

There will be people who say the nasty old media did for this demo, by relentlessly pointing out facts and other inconvenient truths. But if the hippies had anyone with so much as a week's experience as a hack on their team they'd have had the benefit of some clear and simple advice about what not to get in the papers for - no drink, no drugs, no empty tents, no unwashed hair, no using a cathedral as a toilet and tear up your LGBT equal arsewipe multimedia manifesto.

I can't help thinking that just one day actually sat in the stock exchange would have caused 'the system' more problems, and had more public support, than the four months they've spent fannying about in a churchyard.

But don't mind me. Camping's not really my thing.

The Fox wants a power shower.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Pity the hack.

THERE are grim jobs, dirty jobs, and downright bloody awful ones. But possibly the worst in Fleet Street this week will be whatever poor soul has to ghostwrite Nancy Dell'Olio's new 'style' column.

Yours truly was sniffing around the Wapping bins last night and found an early draft - covered in the Editor's angry red pen, it must be said - clutched to the chest of an exhausted hack unconscious through self-medication and slumped in a nice warm gutter.


Dear Nancy,

I have worn the same white shirt to the office every day for 16 years. I quite like it but the rest of my colleagues say I'm boring and to be honest there are yellow patches under the arms and the collar is so frayed it's more of a ruff. What's your advice?


A.N.Other Crime Reporter
Buongiorno. Is easy, you silly silly boy. You wear nice yellow shirt so patches no show, I like the silky satin ones they make me feel sexio, here is a-one for you. Next!

Dear Nancy,

I've been using the same gothic eye makeup since I was a teenager but now I'm a wizened 27-year-old I think I've outgrown it. Trouble is I can't find a new look that suits me. Have you got any make-up tips?


Winesoaked Hack
You are little older than Nancy (yes, I know! Is difficult believe I only 25!) and probably donna have a millionaire ex-boyfriend like me who still pay for house and olive-oil massages. I always find that a very light touch with makeup is best as we liedies mature, nothing too heavy, but just enough to make all the guys go a-crazy! My look is very naturale and take me only two hours to apply with trowel. Here is picture me before and after.

Dear Nancy,

I have been working in the fashion world for years but can't seem to make it pay, with the added problem that I never feel like I'm good enough. Do you have any advice how to make it as a style columnist and feel better about myself?


Liz Jones
I am style columnist as everyone love my style. When I was on Strictly Come Dancing everyone vote to keep me in they like me so much and me so good. I suggest you try sequins and thick orange tights, or hang out with Tony Beak. He available now, we no speak much. If you more like Nancy you feel better soon.

Dear Nancy,

Every time I put a new frock on everyone demands to know where it's from and calls me a style icon. It's exhausting because I worry about letting people down and worry that one day I will put my foot in it and wear something everyone hates. I do my own make-up but I think my best asset is my hair.


Kate, Duchess of Cambridge
You are moderately attractive girl who has fooled some of public into liking you, however you need to up your game if you want be true fashion goddess like me. Have you considered wearing a tomato-red catsuit next time you visit an addiction charity? Your hair all right but too long, maybe you should cut it all off.

Dear Nancy,

In my job I need to be inconspicuous and after decades of skulking outside people's houses I own 30 pairs of khaki trousers, two dozen grey hoodies and am incapable of using anything but a water bottle to wee in. Turning up at parties I can go unnoticed for hours at a time, at least until I relieve myself behind a curtain. How can I dress with more flair?


Pap Erazzi
You stinky man. Why you no shave? Sit in car all day poo in bag. You need toilet training and proper wardrobe of clothes you wan keep nice. This dress from one my favourite designer, I think when you go to party people notice you more like this. Statement hats very IN this season.

Dear Nancy,

When can I have my house back?

Who you? I no hear what you say. La la la la la.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

A meaty, messy business.

JOURNALISTS are often accused of romanticising their profession, especially when one of our own dies.

It's true that a tendency to lyricise and the constant criticism we get means we often talk about freedom of speech and fighting for the little man and the nobler justifications of our trade.

Sometimes that's right. More often though we deal with humanity at its extremes - crime, death, birth, heartbreak, revenge - and whether you're dealing with a wronged lover, a violent criminal or the recently bereaved, journalism is a meaty, messy business which is not for the faint of spirit.

You don't get far wearing rose-tinted spectacles. And there is no higher part of my profession nor one so grisly as the work of covering a war. It is one of the most valuable and worthy things any reporter or photographer can do, the greatest risk they can take, and of course the one most likely to end badly. It is the thing most guaranteed to impress other journalists beyond measure, an extremely difficult feat among seasoned cynics.

Today Sunday Times reporter Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik - both of them award winners - were killed in the Syrian city of Homs as they covered the shelling of civilians by President Bashar Assad.

The snapper working with Marie, Paul Conroy, was injured. He's probably being cared for by the very limited resources of the opposition, while Marie and Remi's bodies have yet to be recovered. Their editors are trying their best to bring them all home, while the city remains under fire.

I do not know any of the people concerned, so it's not for me to write about them. Their friends will do that I am sure. And I've never been to war, a fact which makes my mother glad and me a little wistful.

There are those who, when those obituaries are written, will say we hacks treat each other better than we do others, that we show more grace and remorse when a fellow vulture tumbles off the perch than we do to the average deaths we deal with. Perhaps that is case. But then average deaths are usually due to accident, insanity or circumstance - when a hack dies in harness it's usually because they chose to take that risk.

At a memorial service at the journalists' church St Brides last year ITV news anchor Mark Austin said people often do not understand why we run towards danger rather than away from it. Usually it's for those higher goals, and sometimes if we've done it too often it's because we've become addicted to it, as we become attached to so many things in this job - the stories, the gossip, the black humour, the free drinks.

Because, you see, there are two sides to a journalist's brain. On the one hand there is a human part, the bit which knows your mum worries, that this job is bizarre, the side of you which is moved to tears when someone tells you a heart-rending tale. A good journalist never, ever loses that side to them because it is what makes them good, it gives them empathy and understanding.

On the other hand is the news gatherer, the bit of your head which is occupied with getting the right turn of phrase, capturing an image, and getting a copy of the receipt. The bit which fires up, when you are stood amid a sea of dead and rotting corpses and the human side of your head wants to vomit itself inside out and get on the first plane home, and tells you 'this is BRILLIANT'.

While I've never been to war, I've been to that place. I've sat amid carnage and wondered why I can't cry at the same time as scribbling notes and thinking 'this is writing like melted butter, it's going to sail onto the front'. When I was 18 and on my first local paper I came in to work one day to see my chief reporter crash the phone back on the hook and say to me excitedly: "There's been a murder on your patch!" And my response was: "GREAT!"

That's when you know you're a hack - when you run towards the bad things. Since then I've put myself in places where I was far from safe, where the mere fact of my presence meant my mum didn't sleep for a week or I've decided not to tell her I was there until I wasn't any more. I've stood and watched things I can't fix but tear my heart apart to see, and I've come home with a thousand-yard stare to my boss telling me to take some time off and put my head back together.

I have friends who have died and been injured. I have mates who quite literally skip when told they're going to Afghanistan. And half of me is envious of them, while the other half thinks they're nuts. Everyone else in a war gets a gun, and all we have is a pen or a camera. And half the time I can never find my pen.

Maybe we're just screw-ups, and this job keeps us out of the asylum and safely medicated in the pub. I've been on jobs that were horrendous by day and every evening, once our copy was filed, the press pack tore the town up and drank every bar in the place dry. In those circumstances the hangover actually makes you feel a bit better.

But the end result, whatever our motivation or however much of our brains is given over to trying to get a sexy byline shot or the front page, is that someone sees the things no-one else wants to. Maybe it means knocking on a rapist's door late at night, finding the right words to describe an unspeakable thing, or sneaking into a city under siege from the forces of a dictator to tell the world what's happening.

We bear witness, however unbearable we find it ourselves, and there's not a single journo dead or alive who will tell you that's not worth doing, and that usually it's as far from romantic or rose-tinted as you can get.

So while I didn't know them, I'll raise a glass to Marie and Remi tonight - and take my hat off to two brave people who didn't have to do what they did, but thought someone ought to do it anyway.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Do not adjust your mindset.

This is the British Broadcasting Service. This country has been attacked with policies of mass destruction. Communications have been severely disrupted by a year-long inquiry into the Press and the number of casualties and the extent of the damage are not yet known. Normally the NHS deals with casualties, but it's been outsourced to a TV show with terrible acting and all the usual whistleblowers are in hiding in case they get nicked. We shall bring you further information as soon as we get our arses out of this sling. Meanwhile, stay tuned to this wavelength, stay calm and stay in your own homes.

Remember there is nothing to be gained by trying to get away. We built a big wall around Britain to stop people coming in and this also stops you leaving for anywhere more sensible, like Greece. By leaving your homes you could be exposing yourselves to greater danger. Max Moseley is out there somewhere, along with Simon Cowell and Eric Pickles. We have no idea what they may do if cornered, but it will probably involve moobs.

If you remain in your home, you may find yourself without food, without water, without accommodation and without protection. But if you're old, poor, single, divorced or gay then frankly it's your own fault. Duncan Smith fall-out, which follows a policy explosion, is many times more dangerous if you are directly exposed to it. Tinfoil hats and cheap vodka offer substantial protection. The safest place is indoors under the sofa, where the taxman can find you.

Make sure gas and other fuel supplies are turned off and that all fires are extinguished, because if you're rich enough to afford fuel you will attract rampaging mobs of feral peasants. If mains water is available, this can be used for fire-fighting because the Fire Brigade has been sacked. But for the love of God don't drink it, because the Germans sold it to the Chinese and heaven knows what they've done to it. You should also refill all your containers for drinking water after the fires have been put out, because the mains water supply may not be available for very long due to drought which has turned the eastern side of Britain into the Sahel. Supplies of water are low and those who cannot pay their water services bills have the bailiffs sent round, while Tuareg tribesmen maraud the south east. Rich people are asked not to water their roses as often as previously.

Water must not be used for flushing lavatories as we have run out: until you are told that lavatories may be used again, other toilet arrangements must be made. We suggest finding a journalist to wee on instead, or if there are none to hand you might like to find someone older, younger, poorer, gayer or more workshy than you. If you do need to find something to flush the toilet with, try less valuable commodities such as liquid plutonium, Cristal champagne or blue whale sperm to fill your cisterns instead. Use water only for essential drinking and cooking purposes, or for washing if you have been exposed to any Milibands. Water means life. Don't use it.

Make your food stocks last: ration your supply, because otherwise you will have to kill and eat the parents of a small child who likes playing with the toys generally considered more suited to the opposite gender. If you have fresh badly-behaved parents in the house, use these first to avoid wasting them: other people you might wish to eat will keep for later. People with dreadlocks have no 'use by' date and can be kept in trees or tents for some years, although they can be gristly; the morbidly obese are known to rot slowly as long as they are carefully watched by state-funded carers.

If you live in an area where a fall-out warning has been given - for example anywhere north of Westminster, south or west of Westminster, or east of Westminster - stay in your Lansley shelter until you are told it is safe to come out. When the immediate danger has passed the sirens will sound a relieved sigh. The "all clear" message will also be given on this wavelength. If you leave the fall-out room to go to the hospital, look for work or attempt vigilante justice, do not remain outside the room for a minute longer than is necessary as you will be either arrested, sued or eaten.

Do not, in any circumstances, attempt to work. Policy fall-out makes it too expensive for anyone to employ you. Those already in work are permitted to dick about on the internet. Those who are not may be able to do 'work experience' as part of 'reforms' and 'training' once the all-clear has been given but money will only be paid to those who are not old, gay, poor, or militant secularists, who are known to bomb people with science and reason.

You cannot see it or feel it, but early reports say Prescott is manifesting. If you go outside and are contaminated, you will bring danger to your family and die of incomprehensible verbal diarrhoea. Stay in your shelter until you are told the flatulence has passed or you hear the "all clear" on the sirens.

Here are the main points again:

We're screwed.

We shall repeat this broadcast in two hours' time, unless the whole place gets blown sky-high by someone on social media as some kind of twisted terrorist 'joke'. Jokes are banned.

In the absence of any ideas, have a cup of tea and pray in a solely-Christian fashion that someone else thinks of something.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Boxing, (n.): the act of fighting with fists.

TWO blokes stand up and knock the crap out of each other. People gather to watch, and money changes hands about who will win the fight. Pictures are taken, cameras roll, and blood is spilled.

If you see it, do you call the police or stay to watch the sport? Because according to events in Germany yesterday the above scene is perfectly safe and reasonable - as long as it is roped off.

Now, I understand the copy of your average sports reporter about as well as I do Japanese or algebra, so it's taken me a while to wade through the first-person outrage and dramatic colour in all of today's papers about 'controversy' and 'dark day for our noblest sport' blah-blah.

But, fundamentally, what happened is that several men got involved in what is known as 'a brawl'. First one bloke spat in another bloke's face, then (after fighting him officially, and losing) marched up to another bloke at  press conference prompting what tabloids might in other circumstances call 'a fracas'. Blokes went toe-to-toe, threats were made, bloke swung punch with hand holding bottle, bloke's mates got involved, bloke started brandishing a camera tripod and smacked his own mate on the noggin.

It's none of it brilliant behaviour, but no-one died, no-one was seriously injured, and it's the kind of stupid willy-waving by idiots I've heard in a thousand court cases and seen first-hand on nights out. The main difference with these events is that normally they are fuelled by alcohol, and in this instance it seems to have been precipitated by those two consistent partners-in-crime, testosterone and stupidity.

Now it seems that because the men in question weren't drunk, it wasn't 3am and there wasn't a girl involved, the police want to question everyone and press some charges. After all, we can't have that, can we?

Except all the blokes involved are fighters. They've been trained, over decades, to be bigger and more powerful than the other bloke and to smack him around according to a set of rules in order that people can make millions of pounds and have the thrill of watching blood be spilled. Is it really a surprise to anyone that fighters are a bit fighty?

I can't help thinking that half the outrage is from sports reporters who were sat in that press conference and suddenly realised that the two blokes they watch and comment on in the ring are REALLY big and REALLY close and REALLY annoyed. Once they got over the squealy terror, they've all started harrumphing about what a shameful day it is for the sport.

Then there's the likes of those who call boxing a gentleman's pastime, who think everyone involved loves their mum, sets an example to children, follow Marquess of Queensberry rules and give the other feller a fightin' chance, doncherknow.

Perhaps once upon a time. But it's always been about money, blood, and power, and smacking the hell out of someone who's got in the ring because he wants some of yours. It's one of the least sporting sports there is, because it doesn't leave much room for luck or plucky underdogs. And it's never going to be much different to two guys knocking ten bells out of each other in a pub car park; it's just we've taken those men, fed them up and taught them how to do it properly.

It seems bizarre to me that we're fine with gladiators in the Coliseum, but seriously expect them to play together like nice boys on the bus home.

And it's more than a shade hypocritical that punching someone behind a rope while millions bay for blood, drink beer and gamble on the outcome is socially acceptable, while landing a smack when no-one had the chance to put a bet on it first is considered a crime.

<< This is 3 months in jail


This is absolutely fine >>

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Let them eat less cake.

THE issue of eating disorders is a complex one, and therefore difficult to solve.

There are people who eat too little, and too much, and who harm themselves not because they do or don't like food but because they hate themselves.

They deserve a degree of sympathy, and help with the mental health issues and addictions which are plainly causing serious harm.

Then there are those whose early death is being hastened not so much by sickness but by a terminal stupidity of the kind which makes Joey Essex look like Stephen Hawking, people whose lack of brain power is replaced by a towering edifice of denseness so severe it would make Charles Darwin despair for the future of the human race and piss off to the Galapagos to live with the finches forever.

This is best demonstrated by the tale of Britain's fattest woman, Brenda Flanagan-Davies of Gateshead, who at the age of 43 has achieved an almost matching weight of 40 stone.

Brenda eats six meals a day, troughing down 6,000 calories which include cheesy chips, cola, pizza, more chips, Chinese takeaways, pickles, chips again and an average of nine chocolate bars in 12 hours.

Because of her size Brenda needs the help of the welfare system to the tune of £36,400 a year to pay for a team of carers who wash her and prepare sensible meals which she also manages to tuck away in between the junk food, a reinforced bed, and various allowances to keep a roof over her head as she has not even been outside the house for four years, much less been able to get a job.

Brenda's days are spent shopping online for food - she spends about £1,000 a month - staggering a short distance to the shower, and reaching into the fridge beside her bed for the next snack. She managed to get married but on her one trip out with her husband she busted the front suspension on his Mondeo.

Doctors have told her to diet or die, and that her body is too fragile to undergo surgery to fit a gastric band.

Brenda seems to be well aware of the problem, because she said that the bigger she gets, the sadder she gets, and the more she eats.

She said: "I want to help myself but don't know where to start."

I'll tell you where to start, Brenda. MOVE THE FRIDGE TO THE END OF THE GARDEN.

You'll soon be trotting up and down quite happily, I'm sure. And perhaps with a bit more movement and a few pounds off your self-loathing might lift and you'll get better in other ways too.

Everyone has a few wobbly bits - it's normal. People often call themselves fat when they're not. The obesely thick, however, those whose weight and stupidity are affecting their lifespan, are going to cost the nation millions over the course of even a shortened lifetime and harm the health of those around them as well. It must be easy to balloon from 20 stone to 40, because by that point you can't move much and care even less. But it's not like this creeps up on you, not that you contract a virus and wake up one day and suddenly need to call the fire brigade to help you take a leak. How does anyone not notice when they go from 10 stone to 15? It takes effort to eat 6,000 calories a day. I couldn't fit even half of Brenda's diet in my stomach, she's had to train to achieve this. Why did no-one step in at an early stage and explain this simple equation to her?

input - output = size

Fixing all the reasons for an eating disorder is difficult work. Brenda was bullied as a youngster, and although it was 30 years ago and she is now a grown-up, has the brain and willpower of a child. If she can't figure it out for herself the carers we are all paying a lot of money for need to move the fridge, unplug the laptop and perhaps ban the bloody chips.

But they won't, because they're pea-brained enough to have left cola within easy reach of a fattie who's too moronic not to drink something else. And it will probably be less than a week before someone even more incurably dim than Brenda appears in a newspaper to claim they're actually Britain's fattest woman and waaah waaaah waaaah.

If only I had a gun, they'd all start running around pretty quick.

Thick, sick, and infuriating to know.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

The scum also rises.


Phone-hacking, picture-stealing, baby-trampling, cop-corrupting, privacy-invading, sub-human beasts who enjoy nothing more than making innocents cry. Granite for their souls, slime for blood, viciousness for a moral code.

And how they wail when they get caught out! The whingeing and and whining when the forces of the law wreak due process upon them, when they are dredged up from the gutter to face the consequences of their behaviour! Paedophiles show more humility, terrorists are by comparison better able to accept not everyone might agree with them. But journalists? They want freedom to continue wreaking havoc, to destroy, intimidate and ruin. They deserve everything they get, in fact they ought to get more, harder, and often.

As journalists have been sacked, suspended and arrested over allegations of police corruption and phone-hacking, as questions are asked about computer viruses and ethics, as three police investigations, a select committee and a public inquiry trawl through roughly the past 20 years of back copies with a sneer and a pair of tweezers, so they have become monsters. An entire profession consisting of thousands of people - and me - are seen as the feral beasts once described by that paragon of morality, Tony Blair, undeserving of anything but public disgust.

It has always been the case that hacks are looked down upon, particularly by people with self-installed pedestals. But now they're pissing on us too, just like Robert Maxwell used to piss off the roof his HQ in Fleet Street while mocking the poor saps below.

On the back foot for the past six months or so the trade has begun to tire of the ordure thrown its way. Many of its denizens had thought that this was just our turn, that scrutiny of the scrutinisers was fair enough, and if a handful of irks had got us in the shit it was to be expected we'd have to wade through it for a while. But as news has begun to spread of the latest developments in the police investigations so the attitude has changed from grudging acceptance of the Establishment shoe up our bums to  questioning whether the foot is quite as righteous as it makes out.

So Trevor Kavanagh and Richard Littlejohn, the Wellygraph, the Wail, the Windy, the Glimmer and the Scum have come out - not quite fighting, yet - but certainly cracking their knuckles with articles, leader columns and a couple of pointed questions about why £84,000 a day is being spent on the biggest police inquiry of recent times when we don't have enough nurses; when the Met has 24 unsolved murders on its books; and how come your average hack gets raided at dawn, his wife's car door panels cut out, children's rooms searched and relatives with cancer turfed out of their sickbed so Plod can look under the mattress, while disgraced executives who are accused of covering up the whole thing to start with get to pop to a police station when it suits?

And these complaints and queries have produced, not sympathy, but an insistence that those arrested are guilty not just of the crimes they are accused of but a wider crime against humanity as well - that they have brought the human race into disrepute, not just with criminal actions but by refusing to accept the punishment the Establishment is deeming fit to hand out.

Except for two things: firstly, the problem with dishing it out to journos is that we can largely take it. Journalists are thick-skinned, and I can shake off shit quicker than a pig in a spin-drier. Secondly if you dish it out to us we will be asking you questions while you do so, and making a careful note.

So allow me a moment, between buckets of manure, to make a few salient points.

All the things journalists ever get accused of doing wrong are either illegal or outlawed by the PCC Code of Conduct. If anyone gets caught doing them, they ought to feel the full force of the rulebook and if convicted never be allowed to even walk down Fleet Street again, much less consider themselves part of my gloriously ignoble trade.

Much of what the police investigation teams have done is no different to how they treat many suspected criminals - heavy-handed at times, sometimes plain wrong, but usually within the law (coppers are a lot like hacks, in that respect). But coppers like looking tough, particularly when journalists have caught them out nallsing up previous investigations. Perhaps this is why they're leaking all the details of the journo arrests, and not so much about the RBS executives nicked last week over tax evasion allegations.

I would however quite like it if those hacks who are guilty, when it finally comes to trial, don't have any excuse for appeal against sentence or conviction. Naffing things up at this stage, whether it's prejudicial leaks or a badly-timed public inquiry ordered by a Prime Minister facing a lot of difficult questions about his relationship with people who used to be journalists, is only going to do the bad guys a favour in the long run.

And human beings, in my experience, are generally corrupt long before we get to them. I have spent far more time in my career telling people I am not going to pay them than I have signing cheques and contracts. One hack I know has been arrested over an email sent to a newspaper by a serving police officer, asking how much he might get for a story dobbing in his superiors. The hack quite rightly responded that they could not pay him anything but that if the story was in the public interest they may be able to pay a charity of his nomination. That hack has been accused of corruption, arrested, searched and bailed, and the main thing the officers questioning him wanted to know was the identity of the whistleblower. I hope he didn't tell them, and I'll bet you my last penny that hack's never going to get as far as the dock.

In the meantime he's under bail conditions not to speak to any of his 'co-accused', which means he can't go to work for an indefinite period. Jolly good fun for him but it means that a newspaper is now being run on a skeleton staff, with fewer journos working their contacts and bringing in stories. Meanwhile the phone is not ringing as much as it did, because everyone who works for a council, government department, police force, fire brigade or healthcare trust is worried that Plod will pay them a visit. They're usually worried enough about possible dismissal and their pensions to start with. Today the fear stopping them speak must be even worse.

Yet the two top cops who resigned from Scotland Yard over allegations of a corrupt relationship haven't been questioned. Paul McMullan, an ex-journo who's not worked in the street for 10 years but has admitted to hacking phones left, right and centre, hasn't been nicked either. I'm sure if you asked him he'd admit to bribing Dixon of Dock Green, the Sheriff of Nottingham and Inspector Morse too. Come on Plod, have at it!

Coppers try to corrupt hacks as much as the other way around; and those who are decent, on both sides, engage in a dance in which they exchange information but never cross the line we all instinctively know is there. I buy him a pint, he buys me one, and we're all square. His boss might not like it but that's been going on for 200 years quite safely and legally. True corruption comes much higher up, when an executive in the Press and another in public office start to scratch each other's back, to do favours they oughtn't and arrange gifts worth thousands of pounds. They're the ones who disgrace the rest of us, as well as themselves, and they're the ones who should be raided at dawn.

We will also need to decide at what point corruption kicks in. Is he corrupted if I give him £1? How about £50? Is he only corrupted if he changes his behaviour, or if he embarrasses his boss? If he is a senior Scotland Yard detective who resigns in disgrace does his corruption get erased? Is he to blame for that, or the newspaper executive who partied with Prime Ministers? Is corruption contagious, or is it possible to work with someone dodgy and not pick up that infection yourself?

And finally can anyone explain how allowing the pendulum to swing quite this far is doing the wider world any great favours? Three months ago I reported here that Britain was 19th in the World Press Freedom Index; we've dropped nine places in 12 weeks, and today it's 28th. If that happened in a country ending in -stan there'd be questions at the United Nations and Shami Chakribarti would be having an embolism on Question Time. But then, this is just journalists. We're scum.

Catching the corrupt, sentencing the criminal, and rooting out the bad doesn't harm anyone's freedoms. And as I told a group of students at Bournemouth University yesterday, if you're a hack the world will always see you as a second-class citizen. When you are assaulted in the course of your job the police won't care, the CPS won't prosecute, and a jury won't believe you. There will always be someone who is upset by what you write, no matter how carefully you do it, and a stranger will tell you how much they hate you while asking you for detail about Hugh Grant's sexual peccadilloes.

The fact it's our turn I can live with. That you may not like me I couldn't care less about, because you still read this far. The fact that a trade which, however much you may dislike its constituent parts, has every right to speak for upwards of 25million readers a day is under serious threat I cannot.

But I didn't tell that to those journalism students, as their futures will be tough enough and I reckon that the pendulum will swing back into balance.

Because there's one other thing the people attacking us haven't worked out yet: scum always rises.

Pencils are deadly in the right hands.

Thursday, 2 February 2012


WHEN something takes the lives of up to 37,000 civilians, something is usually done.

When 2,882 soldiers are killed, someone raises concerns.

When somebody spends around £500billion on something that didn't work, questions are normally asked.

And when those in authority were warned all those things were going to happen before they even began, governments fall, people get locked up and there's a big old public inquiry.

So I'm sitting here waiting for the announcement that the White House and Downing Street, and Dubya and Blair, Rumsfeld, Rice, Cheney, Robertson, Hoon, Reid and all the other people who thought war in Afghanistan was a fabulous idea are going to be hauled in front of a panel of pissed off people, debt-ridden citizens, bereaved relatives and limbless soldiers to explain themselves.

I expect I'll be waiting a while.

But just for the record, the 11-year war which was launched purely and simply to find and punish the relatively-small number of people who planned the 9/11 terror attacks has so far killed thirteen times more people than died in the Twin Towers and in financial terms cost 38 times as much.

And that's without counting the 12 journalists killed for reporting it, or the veterans' medical bill, and the decades of welfare payments.

In return for our input Afghanistan has seen small but not-to-be-sniffed at improvements in terms of immunisation programmes, public education, roads, transportation, women's rights and some almost-democratic elections which means its parliament has one of the world's highest proportions of female representatives in the world, at 28 per cent.

It also has the fourth most corrupt government on the planet, three quarters of the civilian casualties were killed by their own countrymen, and things like this still happen:

So it's not exactly an unqualified success.

Now a leaked report for US military commanders, compiled from prisoner interrogations, reveals the entire thing was a waste of time. The Taliban will regain control when troops finally leave in 2014, the population prefers the certainty of fundamentalism - emphasis on the mentalism - to the vagaries of a corrupt elite installed by the invaders, and the new Afghan army and police force we've been busy training were in fact Taliban all along.

Oh, and the whole insurgency has been funded, backed and arranged from Pakistan from whence, students of history might like to note, the earlier Afghan civil war from which the Taliban emerged was also masterminded.

Worse, none of this was a surprise.

Experts in Afghan matters were lining up to point out the problems of an invasion, but because this didn't fit in with "HOO-AH! HUT HUT HUT" they weren't paid much attention to.

If only George 'What's a Dubya?' Bush had taken time to read the predictions of Professor Paul Wilkinson of the University of St Andrews, who wrote a book called Terrorism vs Democracy in 2000. It mentioned the possibility of suicide plane-jackers, and when interviewed by an enterprising journalist six days after 9/11 Prof Wilkinson went on to say that war was a bad way of dealing with these particular fanatics.

He said: "There is no simple military panacea for dealing with this phenomenon. It is a much more subtle, sophisticated mixture of political, diplomatic, criminal justice, intelligence and other activities such as sanctions. Intelligence in a free society is at the heart of a successful strategy to defeat terrorism.

"The general strategy has to be a multi-dimensional one. It cannot depend entirely on military force. That has never worked in the whole 30 year history of modern terrorism."

(Only that didn't happen.)

In case anyone had trouble understanding, he went on: ""Sending troops into a country like Afghanistan with its very hostile terrain is a dangerous task. These people know their mountains and their valleys, every rock and every cave... The death of innocent civilians... would decrease international support for America and increase support for bin Laden."

(That did happen.)

And finally Prof Wilkinson pointed out: "A powerful democracy like the United States, with its strong underlying principles for the rule of law and upholding human rights, should not desert the moral high ground."

(Well that didn't... oh.)

Perhaps the powers-that-be took no notice of Prof Wilkinson because the above interview appeared in the Birmingham Post. Maybe they ignored every other expert saying exactly the same things in their own departments and to other news organisations because they were all a bit deaf, blind, dim, or just as fundamentalist as those they thought they could defeat with bombs rather than brains.

But I suspect the main reason they didn't pay any attention was because they were too busy cock-waving to do any damn thinking.
War costs, words don't.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Outrage (n): act of wanton cruelty or violence.

WE live in a time best described as outrageous, because if something happens which enough people express anger about that thing is bullied to the point of virtual suicide.

Public scandals have a certain timeline. They start with a few mentions, here and there, of things which provide more questions than answers, then a trickle of stories snowballs into a storm of revelations and finger-pointing before a baddie is found to act as the lightning rod for everyone's unhappiness.

Usually someone is convicted, dismissed or at the very least found guilty in the court of public opinion, and things die down as we all hope it doesn't happen again.

But now we have a new and paranoid element in the mix; the likelihood that a critical mass of people will be unhappy enough about the scandalous thing to stir themselves to stab a finger at a keyboard or telephone number pad in order to express it.

So the normal trickle-snowball-storm process now has a G-spot - and if tickled just right, the whole thing explodes like a nuclear bomb mushrooming out of control and out of all rhyme and reason as well.

This is not to say such public outrage is not justified at times. But it has got to the point where the outrage does not always take account of common sense, and everyone is so terrified about provoking such a reaction that in order to damp the whole thing down they do ridiculous and illogical things.

Russell Brand was sacked for making unfunny remarks about a former lover on a radio show no-one had paid any attention to. The News of the World was euthanised at a time when it was, ironically, the cleanest and best-behaved it had ever been. Jeremy Clarkson made the kind of joke about striking workers we all expected him to and the fuss was such that he, his employers, and the show on which he made it all had to grovel. And we seem to have a race row once a fortnight.

All of those scandals were about something which, of course, was wrong - but the fallout simply made no sense. No-one should be sacked for what ex-employees did years earlier; no joke, however ill-considered or unfunny, should cause wild-eyed, frothing anger. That kind of reaction is normally reserved for religious fundamentalists, not your average man-at-a-keyboard.

"Ah," you'll be saying, "but you journalists lead witch hunts all the time, don't you?" Well, we get accused of that, usually by people on the end of it. In truth such stories are largely a barrage of difficult questions asked of people who don't want to answer them. And when we set out on those escapades we are bound by the laws of the land, by fact-checking and consequences, by half a dozen bosses and lawyers who check our missiles before we launch them. No-one can edit public opinion, nor should they try, but in an age when it can very rapidly have devastating consequences perhaps we all ought to think twice.

A YouTube video or picture of someone doing something wrong might do the rounds, and perhaps it helps to catch a criminal but what if it means their innocent lookalike is hounded out of town, or thumped in the street? It's going to happen one day. Imagine what would happen if someone posted a picture of 'the real killer' in a high profile child murder case and used the wrong one?

When football manager Gary Speed committed suicide gossip was rife about the reason. The main rumour was he had received a knock on the door from a tabloid journalist who was writing an unflattering story, a speculation seen by thousands. Newspapers issued statements saying they were not investigating Speed in any way, but the belief persisted in some quarters. Yesterday after an inquest ruled he may have hanged himself unintentionally following a drunken row with his wife, Speed's family praised the media and his brother-in-law posted on Twitter: "So, Gary Speed wasn't gay, wasn't having an affair, and wasn't facing tabloid exposure. Nice work, Twitter. #RumourFail."

And, largely because of the degree of public outrage against bankers and the bonus culture, this week Stephen Hester at publicly-owned RBS had to forego some shares which had been agreed by the Government as the best way of ensuring he was rewarded only for success. In the same week his predecessor Fred Goodwin - the man responsible for the mess most people agree Mr Hester is doing a reasonable job of cleaning up - was stripped of his knighthood, three years after he resigned for his incompetence.

Common sense would tell us that a bank should be run as a bank, not a charity. Now it's owned by us we'd like the man in charge to be a big, successful banker who will turn a big old profit so we can get our money back, not a wannabe vicar doing it out of the kindness of his heart. Common sense tells us that we'd far rather Goodwin kept his meaningless knighthood and gave us back the £300,000 a year he took at early retirement; let's make that sucker work til he drops.

Common sense would also tell you that people commit suicide for lots of reasons, but rarely because someone asked them a question. Common sense says Jeremy Clarkson's a twit, that Russell Brand's never been that funny and that around 9m people quite enjoyed reading the News of the World, and if it had cleaned up its act that was a good thing.

On the other hand, public anger at the decision to prosecute a man for tweeting a joke about blowing up Robin Hood airport, which led tens of thousands to tweet the same and thus prove the law was an ass, was brilliant, inspiring, and quite right.

But too often the ease with which we can kick off simply means that the people who shout loudest and longest get their way. It's a form of national bullying, and while sometimes a little of that may be deserved it rarely pays much attention to what's sensible.

Common sense is never our first reaction to a scandal; it usually arrives only with hindsight, when it's less useful. It ought to teach us to think twice next time, and perhaps use the massive righteous power of public opinion to support those who deserve it, withdraw it from those who don't, and to confine ourselves to asking awkward questions of those who cross the line.

Outrageous idea, isn't it?